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Marina WiFi can be weird, report from New Bern

Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher since 4/12/2005, and now excited to have Ben Stein as a very able colleague. Panbo is going to the next level in 2018 and beyond.

17 Responses

  1. This morning I got an email notification from NBGM that much of the WiFi and the marina cams are down due to damage from the ferocious front that passed through last night. So there’s another issue with marina WiFi systems, sometimes beyond normal weather exposure.

    But I’d already moved Gizmo down the River to Wayfarer’s Cove Marina, a true hidey-hole. She’s now hauled and getting preped for bottom paint while I enjoy the 5 GHz WiFi in the marina lounge. There’s more latency (aka ping) than at NBGM, but just did a speed test indicating: “DOWNLOAD = 73.92 Mbps”

  2. WiFi can definitely be weird in marinas! I love working on systems in challenging places, and marinas definitely qualify. Meraki equipment is some of the best out there. I currently assist in running 7 different marinas WiFi networks, and all are UniFi by Ubiquiti, which has some great product as well.

    In all cases, I have been brought in because of WiFi complaints, and the usual issues are coverage (not enough WiFi access points) and bands (2.4Ghz vs 5Ghz). In almost all cases, improving both of those brings huge benefits, but then causes the next issue of the uplink bandwidth being too small.

    5Ghz is definitely the way to go, if you can. A good booster/router of some sort is essential even if you are near a WiFi access point to ensure you have a quality signal throughout your boat. Things inside your boat can cause plenty of interference. However, in many cases 5Ghz simply won’t cut it for those anchored out away from a WiFi signal, or in a marina with widely spaced APs. A booster is essential there, but requires careful configuration, and will likely not provide fast download/upload speeds.

    I see less and less WiFi at least out here in the Puget Sound / Salish Sea area – many marinas appear to be offering it less, or not caring about it as much. I suspect it is partially because of cost, and partially from the problems associated with maintaining it. It needs to be treated just like the power and water systems at the marina, with regular maintenance by specialized personnel.

    Thankfully LTE and cellular options are even better than they were a year ago, and offer great connectivity options.

    However, it would be great if all marinas had the same approach as New Bern – I know I would include WiFi in my decision matrix when visiting a marina!

    • Interesting posts – I debated going to the Ghz solution when I installed my BadBoy Extreme MJ last year, but the good folks at Bitstorm Technologies talked me out of it due to the inherent shorter range of higher frequencies. After a very disappointing summer, I think perhaps I made the wrong choice. Real world web browsing performance was often similar using just the laptops built-in Wi-Fi antenna and connecting directly to the marinas hotspot, as going through the onboard router/Badboy booster, complete with arch mounted 9dBi antenna.
      It’s a dilemma to choose a single technology, as sometimes I’m in a crowded marina, where the problems with the 2.4 spectrum are the biggest issue, not range. But the next night, you might be anchored out, trying to connect to a distant hotspot, where you really NEED the longer range of the 2.4 Ghz band.
      Bitstorm had me toy with the EIRP output power on a couple of occasions, reducing it to avoid overpowering a nearby hotspot – but the results were inconclusive at best. The Coastal Marine bridge apparently makes these adjustments automatically in strong signal areas, but I was never clear if that adjustment is supposedly helping MY performance or just my neighbors!
      Perhaps Ben S. has the best solution by combining both 2.4 and 5 Ghz Ubiquiti bullets feeding a common router, allowing a choice of technologies – but I’m thinking that managing all of that must be beyond a lot of folks. And I’m still trying to figure out how Waves Rogue Pro can be a dual-band solution, when the 2.4 and 5 Ghz bands require distinctly different antennas to match the wavelength from the radio and avoid a bunch of signal loss?
      With improving cellular bandwidth and coverage, I’m about ready to chuck the whole Wi-Fi thing and just focus on LTE…

      • Ben SteinBen Stein says:

        Grant,

        2.4ghz and 5ghz dual-band antennas work because 2.4ghz wavelength is very nearly 2x a 5ghz wave. Thus, a 1/4 wave 2.4ghz is also a roughly 1/2 wave 5ghz antenna. There is a small compromise in design because the antenna can’t be as finely tuned to the specific frequencies. Nearly every antenna is a design compromise and I’ve typically seen very small losses from dual-band designs.

        Ben

        • Anonymous says:

          Ok thank you Ben, that makes sense. I suppose I was led astray by the marketing on some antenna websites that clearly group their products as either 2.4 or 5 Ghz … looking forward to your upcoming reviews on the Rogue. Pro!

  3. Don Gulliver says:

    Hello Ben,
    What is the name of the wifi app with the analyzer screen shots shown? Is it an iphone app?

    • I have not found a good one for iOS myself, mainly because Apple locks down the ability to see most of this great info on the iPhone. If you have a stock iPhone and have not jailbroken it, then you’re likely out of luck for a good WiFi app. I carry an Android phone just for this purpose 🙂

  4. It’s WiFi Analyzer. Here’s a link to the android app in the google play store.
    https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.farproc.wifi.analyzer

    • Don Gulliver says:

      A belated thank you. Sadly I have the iPhone.
      That version does not appear to provide some of the neat features I saw displayed in the screenshot contained within the article.

  5. Peter List says:

    As with so many aspects of life, a few people can ruin a good thing for everyone.

    In the case of the 2.4GHz spectrum display above, the entire band, all 11 channels, are essentially unusable, because of the few people who have chosen (or who have allowed the device to choose for them) a channel which is not 1, 6, or 11, which are the 3 non-overlapping channels in the USA.

    Wifi was designed so that different APs on the same channel can communicate with each other to take turns and provide service to all users of both APs. But when a bunch of APs are on channel 11, and one thoughtless or unknowing user has set his extender up on channel 10, the devices on channel 11 all see “Sugar Too” as unmanageable interference. As a bonus, some channel 6 users will also see “Sugar Too” as interference, although not as bad. The only solution, and I have had to do this, is to hunt down the person with the “Sugar Too” extender and as politely as possible explain that he could make more friends on the dock by reconfiguring his extender.

  6. In my marina, wifi effectiveness if much more of a noise problem than a signal problem. Too many boats on too few channels, with people’s preferred solution to buy a more powerful transmitter thereby making the problem even worse. My preferred solution is to encourage people to switch to 5GHz. With ~7 times as many channels and better automated channel selection functionality, it generally does the trick.

    • This is the best solution – 5Ghz was thought out far better than 2.4Ghz, and had the spectrum space available to make it work right. I see too may people do the same thing – buying bigger/more powerful 2.4Ghz extenders – heck, most of the marine grade products are 2.4Ghz only still. That makes sense if you are far away from a marina on a mooring, which many people do, but not if you’re in the marina. Use 5Ghz!

      • Peter List says:

        “more powerful” 2.4GHz routers and range extenders in the US are all constrained by FCC Type Acceptance to a maximum power which isn’t much… 1/2 of 1 watt or so. Occasionally people will spend $ for higher gain antennas, but they typically cost almost as much as the original router.

        5GHz may seem like Nirvana for now, but it has its own set of limitations. 5GHz has significantly less ability to penetrate structure than 2.4GHz; instead it gets reflected. And yes, there are significantly more channels (a channel being 20MHz wide). However, there are 2 gotchas (in addition to the penetration issue above): the way manufacturers get those wizbang high throughput numbers (433Mbps!) is by combining adjacent 20MHz channels. So therefore, if the AP supports it, or even if doesn’t, an AP or range extender thoughtlessly configured for “fastest” throughput will use 2, 3, or 4 of those 20MHz channels.
        The other gotcha is that depending on which part of the 5GHz spectrum you’re using, the legal limit for transmit power varies significantly, ie some 5GHz channels are more equal than others. Oh, and one more thing, some of that 5GHz spectrum is shared with certain kinds of ships radar. If you’re in or near an area with lots of large, ocean going ships, you will almost certainly encounter this. And you can be sure they are not doing collision avoidance with 1/2 watt transmit power.

  7. Agreed on all counts, but for the relatively small spaces and somewhat radio transparent construction of a fiberglass boat, 5Ghz seems to work just fine as a local AP despite the power and propagation limitations. Even a marina’s PtMP link, which has to punch through foliage as well as a sea of masts and other obstructions, may seemingly be better served by 2.4GHz but as soon as you get above a dozen boats on the network, they start stepping on each other. In my experience, in a client-dense environment like a marina the theoretical limitations of 5GHz are far less onerous than the practical limitation of 2.4GHz.

    • Peter List says:

      touche. Practical experience matters, with a giant helping of YMMV and reasonable expectations.

      I was doing Marina wifi support 10 years ago on Maryland’s eastern shore, long before 5GHz wifi was a thing. I very clearly remember going to Great Oaks marina, which had 2 APs at the time, one mounted way up the hill on a tower pointed down at the marina (not my design, I promise!), in response to a very loud complainer. This guy was in a sailboat, his and his wife’s 2 laptops were in the salon. First thing I noticed was they both had wireless mice (bluetooth is 2.4GHz too!). WIth the 2 laptops a foot apart, the mice were even interfering with each other. With some urging from me (“trust me, etc”) we pulled the batteries from the mice for test purposes. Things improved a little bit. We walked one of the laptops up on deck, and they got a little better. I got out my work laptop, plugged in my external directional antenna and pointed it at the AP, and presto. Performance improved dramatically. The guy wanted to “borrow” my antenna for the day to test before he spent 50 bucks for his own. I declined, pointing out that he seemed a considerate fellow, and I was sure he would never ask a carpenter if he could borrow a hammer for the day.

    • Completely agree. After having installed WiFi in over 20 different marinas in the last 5 years, I can say definitively that 5Ghz is the best solution right now. Yes, it has its limitations just like any other technology, but it is not as absolutely screwed as 2.4Ghz right out of the gate.

      Many marinas don’t even use the newer 5Ghz frequencies (commonly called DFS) that are shared by radar and defense devices because their APs don’t support them, but for those that do, they have to have a system to detect when those channels are impinged and reduce/change channels to avoid collisions. It works pretty well.

  1. June 27, 2018

    […] the connection is no longer seen by the FH cloud. That’s how I knew, for instance, that the New Bern marina WiFi I wrote about was actually quite solid even though many users started having trouble with its […]

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